Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning the 1000th grand prix

Hamilton wins processional Chinese Grand Prix on landmark 1000th race

Lewis Hamilton took the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in 2019 after getting the jump on teammate Valtteri Bottas at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix.

From then on, it was something of a processional race for the reigning world champion who never relinquished his lead, a straightforward two-stop strategy seeing him lead home Bottas, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen for a third successive Mercedes 1-2.

Charles Leclerc was fifth after reluctantly allowing Vettel past in the early stages and losing ground in the pit stop, finishing ahead of Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault. Sergio Perez finished an excellent eighth for Racing Point with Kimi Raikkonen and Alexander Albon rounding off the points scoring finishers after the unfortunate Nico Hulkenberg retired early on.

“Awesome job guys,” said Hamilton after receiving the chequered flag. “What a fantastic result for us today, I am so proud of everyone, thank you so much for all the hard work. Let’s keep pushing guys, I really appreciate you.

“It’s not been the most straightforward of weekends, but what a fantastic result for the team, everyone has worked so hard,” added Hamilton after climbing from his car. “We didn’t know where we would stand with the Ferraris, they were so quick in the last race. Valtteri had been quick all weekend and he did great today to have a one-two together I think is really special on the 1000th grand prix. The start was really where I was able to make the difference and after that it was kind of history.

“The strategists have been really on point for these first three races, so we’ve got to keep that up. You can see still it’s very close between us all I have no idea how the next race is going to turn out but I’m super excited.”

The race was won at the start, too much wheelspin for Bottas allowing Hamilton to dive past into Turn 1, the same fate befalling Vettel. Further back there was incident, Daniil Kvyat finding himself sandwiched between both McLarens and cannoning into the unfortunate Lando Norris after hitting Carlos Sainz.

With Hamilton pulling out a substantial early lead, the message came through for Leclerc to let Vettel by on lap 11, the Monegasque reluctantly obliging. Yet it didn’t have the desired effect, Vettel unable to make ground on Bottas – the supreme Mercedes perfectly dialled in to the vagaries of the Shanghai International Circuit.

“I need to understand the full picture and see the full picture and speak with the engineers and understand the decision,” said Leclerc afterward. “I am pretty sure there is an explanation behind this decision. Anyway, it’s past and it has not been a great race for me but overall the weekend I have not been as strong as I wanted.”

It soon became clear that Ferrari’s main battle would not be with their Mercedes rivals but the Red Bulls behind them, Verstappen closing on the increasingly frustrated Leclerc.

With Verstappen edging ever closer, he was the first of the big hitters to stop on lap 19, Vettel getting out just ahead of the Dutchman and holding position after his change for fresh rubber. A fantastic battle ensued, Vettel holding off a late lunge from the Red Bull into the hairpin, Verstappen putting a wheel onto the grass and running wide.

There were no such dramas for the supreme Mercedes, Hamilton holding position at the lead of the field from Bottas after their stops for the hard compound as Leclerc stayed out longer, rejoining fifth behind Verstappen.

And that is how the order would remain after the second series of stops to complete a somewhat damp squib of a landmark 1000th grand prix that saw significantly less action than the opening two races. But there were some standout performances, particularly from Mexican Perez who made up four places to finish eighth and Toro Rosso’s Albon, who started from the pit lane to take the final point.

“I’m very happy to score four points today,” said Perez. “The start was fantastic: I saw a gap, went for it and it paid off. Our race pace was good: we were able to maintain the pace and manage the tyres well. This was never going to be our strongest track so it’s important to take opportunities such as today and keep scoring points. I think we have the potential to be stronger at the next race in Baku.”

For Ferrari, they may well be scratching their heads after showing signs during free practice that they were least on par with their big rivals. They will now have some catching up to do before racing once again resumes in Azerbaijan in two weeks’ time.

“I am happy to be on the podium but it’s tough because I tried to stick with them but I just couldn’t, they were too quick right from the start,” said Vettel afterward. “Obviously I had a bit of a race with Max, which was good fun but the objective was to try and chase them down, but they were too quick for us today, so well done to Lewis and Valtteri.

“I saw Max coming and the speed delta at the end of the straight is quite big now. Knowing Max, I knew he would try so I sort of predicted that he would go down the inside and try to cut back and it worked. I had a bit of a  moment when I had to the car up but it was good and I got nearly a car length ahead and the angle in for him to the last corner for him I guess wasn’t very sexy so it was good fun but we would have loved to be a bit faster.

“I felt I could go faster than Charles, it was difficult for me to find a rhythm so I locked so I had a couple of wobbles where I locked up and lost the advantage again, and I think it’s fair if you see the whole race – we just were not able to stick with Mercedes. I was hoping for Charles to pip Max at the end but it was very close.”

Hamilton’s win means that he takes the lead of the drivers’ championship on 68 points, six ahead of teammate Bottas and Max Verstappen on 39 points. Vettel is two points further back, a point ahead of Leclerc.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.